WWE has spent decades in the wrestling business as the top company, facing almost no competition with remotely the same cultural impact, size or scale. As the brand became increasingly politically contemptible and alienated much of its top talent through relentless bureaucracy and incomprehensible creative decisions, dissent in the industry began to foment, perhaps indirectly accelerating the creation of All Elite Wrestling. Now, as both companies snipe at each other through a series of escalating passive aggressions, WWE is making money moves in what many are interpreting as a not-so-subtle attempt to thwart the latest challenge to its supremacy.
Last week, it was officially announced that NXT, at one point considered WWE’s developmental brand, would be moving from WWE’s digital streaming service to the USA Network on Wednesday nights—during the exact same time slot AEW announced its new live show would run on TNT. NXT had essentially functioned as WWE’s minor leagues by allowing up-and-coming stars to gain a larger following and practice in front of TV camera setups and stadium-sized audiences before finding their way onto the main roster. The program, in the past handled by an entirely separate creative team from other WWE shows, has since become its own unique brand with a different look and feel than WWE’s other flagship endeavors. Now, as NXT becomes its own full-fledged TV show, it seems unlikely it will serve the same purpose going forward.
But the announcement has prompted several unanswered questions within the industry: Will WWE move to replace NXT with another, smaller developmental division—as it has in practice been doing with EVOLVE? Will WWE CEO Vince McMahon, who has been repeatedly criticized for exacerbating a creative crisis within the company writ large, seize creative control of NXT from his son-in-law Paul Levesque (akasemi-retired pro wrestler Triple H), thus changing the mood and tone of the celebrated black-and-yellow brand? Will some characters be exclusively drafted to NXT, thus making the concept of “call-ups” to the main roster obsolete? Will the move from a one-hour to two-hour time slot significantly impact the enthusiasm for NXT? How calculated were both AEW and NXT in their scheduling decisions?